There’s been no bigger news for the American trade union movement in the last several months than the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The court’s narrow decision deals a serious blow to the bargaining power and financial stability of public sector unions and will no doubt have an impact on all unions. The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) is proud to count many public sector employees among its members. These hardworking men and women protect and preserve our communities, care for our family members when they are sick and carry out countless other critical jobs every day.
This direct assault on the union movement threatens workers’ wages, benefits and their ability to prosper as part of the middle class. At the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA), we know that less power at the bargaining table also hurts workers’ chances of achieving a safe and healthy work environment. With many OSHA standards so out of date that they fail to protect workers from what we recognize today as hazardous exposures, the joint labor-management contract has become a powerful tool to close this gap and protect workers on the job. The Janus decision threatens the safety and health of workers just as much as it threatens their wages and benefits.
This blatant attempt to weaken the strength of unions is especially concerning in light of new research showing that unions have a beneficial effect on worker safety and health, and that union employers consistently put more of an emphasis on key safety management practices than non-union employers do. These studies are discussed in more detail in this month’s article, “The Union Advantage: Safety & Health.”
Despite uncertainty ahead for our public sector brothers and sisters, there is also good news to share. Across the U.S. and Canada, LIUNA Local Unions are seeing their membership counts and work hours climb as a busy construction market and a continued labor shortage drive up demand for skilled workers. Contractors are working to fill positions at all levels of the organization, from managers and supervisors to skilled craft positions. This increased demand is a chance for LIUNA members and signatory contractors to showcase what can be accomplished when employers partner with a safe, reliable and highly trained workforce.
The LHSFNA is continuing to track several other trends in new technology and their potential impact on worker safety and health. As this month’s article covers in more detail, drones are increasingly being used as part of the monitoring process on construction jobsites. As drone technology evolves, there is real potential to use these devices as an additional tool to protect workers on the job.
The Fund is also working to shed light on several mental health-related issues, including suicide and firearms. This month’s article on suicide gives more details on a problem that’s claiming the lives of over 20,000 people a year in the U.S. Our military veterans are at increased risk, and it’s worth keeping in mind that many LIUNA members fall into this category. Construction workers are also at increased risk for opioid addiction and overdose, with workers being seven times more likely to die from an opioid overdose than other professions. Both depression and opioid dependence can have their roots in an on-the-job injury, which makes preventing these injuries from happening in the first place all the more important.
It’s common to hear about people working through the pain or “toughing it out” in construction, but it’s important to recognize that we all have limits. At a time when suicide and drug overdoses are becoming more common on construction jobsites, we should all take the time to look out for our fellow union brothers and sisters, especially if they don’t seem like themselves. A helping hand or a quick check in may end up having a greater impact than you think.